Happy Hollow Park’s “skinned” infield converted to turfgrass

The ball diamond’s “skinned” infield in Happy Hollow Park is converted to turfgrass and reclassifies the park as a recreational field, sparking controversy in the community.


Riley Davis, News Reporter

Community pushback to converting one of Iowa City’s “skinned infield” ball parks to turf grass is prompting an Iowa City city councilor to look into restoring the field.

Between Brown Street Historic District and Oakland Cemetery on the northside of Iowa City, Happy Hollow Park is known for its annual zombie march in the fall and its playground, basketball court, and “skinned” ball field in the summer. The University of Iowa Writers Workshop and little league teams play baseball and softball games on the park’s ball field in the spring but will have to acclimate to new playing conditions as the “skinned” infield is converted to turfgrass.

Until recently, the field was the only ball field outside of the city’s four athletic complexes that had a “skinned” infield, said Iowa City Superintendent of Parks Zachary Hall. The conversion to turfgrass was an “operational change,” initially brainstormed in a neighborhood master planning session about a year ago, he said. The park’s department had received public input over the past few years that the field’s conditions were “less than optimal.”

City Councilor John Thomas said in an email to The Daily Iowan that he is currently in discussion with city staff about the field’s change.

“I am still resolved to restore the ball-field diamond in some manner,” he said. “The community response to the reclassification of the ball field as a ‘recreational field’ (examples of this recreational facility type can be found at Willow Creek Park and Creekside Park), has not been favorable.”

Another person concerned about the change is UI Writers Workshop Program Director Lan Samantha Chang. The workshop hosts its annual “Poets vs. Writers” softball game on Happy Hollow Park’s field, in a tradition that spans nearly two decades.

RELATED: Zombies take over town for charity (charity?)

Chang said she is somewhat anxious for the “incarnation” of the ball field but looks forward to when the workshop can play softball again.

“The baseball field at Happy Hollow Park is hallowed ground to the Writers Workshop,” Chang said. “Every spring our students have gathered on the field for their annual softball game and it has become, over decades, the place of many joyful memories for our community of students and alumni… It has been the perfect place for a delightful community softball game.”

Hall said the ball diamond was poorly maintained and had a lot of weeds, but that the department was unable to treat the field due to its limited chemical use policy. According to the city’s website, the policy prohibits using vegetation control chemicals in managed parks and natural areas, unless it’s used to manage noxious weeds and vegetation that poses a safety risk or is an invasive species.

“[The park is] going to provide more diverse use and you can still use it for softball, baseball, [and] tee ball. But you can also use it for soccer, flag football, and ultimate frisbee,” he said. “We really wanted to be efficient with our citizens’ tax dollars and also provide a better product.”

Ofer Sivan, an Iowa City resident of 10 years, spoke with Hall to provide his positive feedback about the change. He said the park is well used by the neighborhood but that the ball field is not — it’s primarily used by little league teams.

Sivan said he’ll be sad to see less “baseball families” in the park but looks forward to the additional open green space that the turf infield will provide.

“If there’s one little league team playing baseball at the field, the park becomes unusable — except the playground,” he said. “The field is quite large, but still not big enough for a baseball game and another activity. Changing the diamond to turf makes it so you can have multiple soccer games or ultimate frisbee games.”